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Recently, the journal Cancer Causes and Control published the results of a study that found that women with a higher body mass index value (BMI) have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States. Colorectal cancer is a malignancy that involves both the large intestines (colon) and a distal portion of the colon known as the rectum. There are many risk factors associated with colorectal cancer, some which are unalterable such as older age, male sex, inflammatory bowel disease, certain hereditary conditions, and a family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps. However, only 25% of all colorectal cancers occur in people with known predisposing factors for the disease. Other risk factors that have been associated with colorectal cancer include smoking, diets high in red meat, as well as diets high in fat and low in fiber. Evidence relating the risk of obesity to colorectal cancer in women has been uncertain; however, recent studies indicate that the presumed association of obesity with colorectal cancer may be modified depending on the women’s hormonal status.

Body mass index is the common medical standard for measuring a person’s body fat and is determined based on height and weight. Frequently, BMI is used to evaluate a person for obesity or for their risk of developing other diseases. A normal BMI is considered to be a score in the range of 18.5-24.9; individuals considered overweight have a BMI score in the range of 25-29.9; and obesity is determined if the BMI score is 30 or greater.

This recent trial involved women who were premenopausal or who were postmenopausal but were receiving hormone replacement therapy. The goal of the study was to evaluate women with relatively high hormone levels and determine the role of BMI in the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Baseline BMI was determined for 37,671 otherwise healthy women, ages 45 years or older, who were followed for 8 years. During the 8 years, 202 women developed colorectal cancer. Risk analysis found that the greatest risk was associated with women who had a BMI score greater than 27 when compared to women with a BMI score of <23. Further analysis found that women with higher BMI scores remained at the highest risk of colorectal cancer despite their use of hormone therapy or not.

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Researchers concluded that women with higher BMI scores had an elevated risk of colorectal cancer that was not altered by their hormonal status. Patients are encouraged to speak to their physician regarding their individual risk factors and what they can do to decrease their risk of colorectal cancer.

Reference: Lin J, Zhang S, Cook N, et al. Body Mass Index and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in Women. Cancer Causes and Control. 2004; 15: 581-589.

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